Whether you're applying for a vacation scheme or a training contract, an interview will almost certainly be part of your application. Legal interviews are your opportunity to demonstrate that you have the skills and competencies the recruiter is looking for. There are limitless possible questions that might crop up.
Here are some that are known to have been asked in training contract and pupillage interviews, to give you an idea of what you might expect.
Questions can usually be divided into five general areas.
- Questions relating to how you view your career.
- Questions relating to law.
- Questions relating to your skills and competencies.
- Questions relating to commercial awareness.
- Questions designed to test your ability to deal with unexpected or tricky issues.
Questions relating to your career…
- Why law? Why do you want to be a solicitor/barrister?
- Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
- Where else have you applied?
- What are you expecting to gain from a career in law?
- What qualities are needed to be a good solicitor/barrister? Do you have these?
- Explain how your (legal or other) experience applies to our work.
You should be prepared to answer questions on your career in some detail, and with conviction. You need to be able to show that your decisions are logical, and based on good information and experience.
Questions relating to law…
- Why have you applied to this firm/set?
- What differentiates us from our competitors?
- What has been the most important development in an area of law we work in, and why?
- Give an example of a recent decision that you agree/disagree with, and explain your position.
These can often be fairly self-explanatory questions with no hidden traps. They are, however, central to your application.
You are applying for a legal role, so you have to be strong on the legal aspects of the job. You won’t be expected to be an expert, but you should be able to answer law-related questions convincingly, based on up-to-date information.
You need to be able to demonstrate why you chose the firm, chambers or organisation interviewing you, and why you are particularly suited to it.
Expect questions on current developments in the commercial and legal world, and anything in the news that concerns the areas of law you are interested in and that relate to the position you are applying for.
Think carefully about how areas of law may cross over.
For example, if a news story breaks about financial wrongdoing, is this only a criminal investigation?
Which other authorities might be involved? What about other aspects, such as directors’ obligations, or how shareholders might be affected? What about reputation management, or any number of other issues that might come into play?
Showing that you understand the relationship between the law and the commercial, everyday implications of its application will be looked on very favourably.
Questions relating to your skills & competencies…
- Are you better working alone, or as part of a team?
- Give an example of a time you experienced conflict or disagreement. How did you resolve this?
- Give an example of your ability to negotiate and persuade. How did you go about this, and how successful were you?
- What is your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness? How do these help/hinder your work, and what are you doing about them?
- Give an example of a problem you solved. Explain your approach, and what you would do differently if faced with the same problem again.
- What achievement are you most proud of?
- What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?
- How do you deal with failure?
- How do your friends describe you?
- Why are you a good person to have on a team?
- What makes you the ideal candidate for the role?
You may be asked any number of standard questions about yourself, but you will not be expected to repeat what is on your CV or application form.
There may be a particular point of interest in something you have mentioned, which may be explored in detail. Otherwise, be prepared to answer questions such as these clearly and positively.
Questions relating to commercial awareness…
Commercial interview questions are intended to assess your ability to identify the key commercial considerations that a typical business will need to think about. From the answers you give, the interviewer will assess your suitability as a potential legal adviser to commercial clients.
Your answers therefore need to demonstrate both commercial sense and common sense.
There will most likely not be a right or wrong answer to these questions, but some points should usually be considered in most answers, such as:
- Supply and demand
- Regulatory issues
- Location, premises and leases
- Branding and identity
- Marketing and advertising
- Company structure (independent company, partnership, franchise?)
Further aspects that you can think of, which may be relevant to the question, include consideration of potential disputes or problems that might be faced, and how they may be resolved.
Some recent examples of commercially focused questions asked at interview are given below.
Explain how the 2008 recession came about, and what you would expect its effects to have been on us as a firm/set. What might be done to minimise any negative effects? Might there have been any positive effects?
You are about to set up a coffee shop next door. How would you go about doing this?
Commercial awareness can sometimes appear to be a concept that is shrouded in mystery. However, it is nothing more than having good practical knowledge of how businesses operate, coupled with a good understanding of current issues affecting the business world.
Questions designed to test your ability to deal with unexpected or tricky issues…
These can be very varied, ranging from ‘dinner party’ style questions, to problems and dilemmas, or may just be questions designed to find out more about you as a person.
With which three historical figures (living or dead) would you most like to have a dinner party, and why?
How long is the London Tube network?
What do you do in your spare time?
You are in a client meeting with a supervisor who is giving incorrect advice. What do you do?
If you knew you were about to be stranded on a desert island for a year, which five things would you most want to have with you, and why?
These questions do not fit easily in the other categories, but your answers may be quite revealing about you as a person.
They may be totally off the wall, or centred around a dilemma, to test clarity of thought, processes of reasoning and ability to present a coherent analysis of the problem.